Any week when you get Nakamura Yuiichi and especially Miki Shinichirou back when you figured they were gone for good is a nice episode. But this week’s Ushio & Tora was a good effort all the way around, using a really clever way to bring Mayuko and Asako back into the story without cutting Ushio’s quest short. And MAPPA found a way to shoehorn another seiyuu legend from way back into the mix to boot.
After an ep like this it’s easy to see where Ushio to Tora might be a bit too old-fashioned for some tastes. I don’t think there’s any denying that the gender roles here are pretty traditional – I like Asako OK and Mayuko much more, but they do the damsel-in-distress thing fairly often. It doesn’t bother me all that much because this is a 25 year-old manga after all – and it’s not as though gender politics has advanced very much in anime. I think the sexism is worse now than ever, in fact – it just manifests itself in different forms.
Mind you, there’s nothing gender-specific in worrying about a missing friend, and the fact that Ushio never told the girls he was leaving (not as if he had a choice – though he could have called them I suppose) justifies their concern. Most of the traction here comes from Asako’s textbook tsundere way of dealing with her worry – she denies it with extreme prejudice, which only makes those around her (including Reiko and Masaki from the painting episode and her best friend Mayuko) more gleefully convinced she’s agonizing.
Meanwhile, Mayuko’s antiques-crazy dad has (conveniently) bought an old Chinese mirror just before he and his wife head off to Europe on vacation. Mayuko seems especially sensitive to spirit-y things, and she knows something’s afoot with this mirror. And any student of Japanese (or Western, for that matter) folklore knows, mirrors are items of profound magical power. It turns out there’s a pervy youkai living inside this one, and when the two girls have a sleepover and act like girls at a sleepover act, it’s too much for his feeble resistance.
Old-school though it may be, this dynamic of Ushio as the rough-hewn champion who’s always there for Mayuko and Asako isn’t remotely without charm. Fundamentally it’s a nice take on the osananajimi trope, and there’s never really a doubt that Ushio is going to find a way to get involved when the girls get in trouble – the only question is how. It happens as he’s visiting the Kamaitachi of a few episodes back – they seem to have warmed to him considerably considering he killed their brother, even if they requested it – when Ushio sees a disturbing image in the pond in front of their home of Asako crying over a mirror, saying Mayuko’s name. How is it that Ushio saw this – was it magic in the pond, or in Ushio himself? It matters not – once he’s seen what he’s seen Ushio isn’t going to take no for an answer (it’s also worth noting Tora’s enthusiasm in pursuing this rescue mission, reflective of the fact that he’s grown very fond indeed of the delicious-looking Mayuko).
But what is the answer, considering Ushio is hundreds of miles away? It’s Ungaikyou no Onji (82 year-old Iizuka Shouzo), an elder Ayakashi who has a powerful mirror magic of his own. He needs some convincing, considering how terrified he is of the beast spear and its wielder (and he’s yet another youkai who inferences towards Tora’s fearsome reputation) but Raishin and Kagari convince him to help, and he whisks Ushio and Tora to where the vision came from, with a catch – his magic only lasts as long as it takes water to boil. If they aren’t back before then, they’ll be trapped in his mirror forever.
Now, I don’t know if that’s the time it takes water to boil over a campfire, or a modern scenario like the fast-boil electric kettles that seem to be in every Japanese kitchen large or small. But if you’re like me that’s not the question you’re asking. That comes after the rescue, which Asako hitchhikes along for (not recognizing the transformed Ushio), freeing Mayuko from a creepy youkai who shoots what look very much like killer sperm at his enemies as he fondles a naked Mayuko. Here’s what I’m really wondering – what exactly do Asako and Mayuko think happened when they wake up back in Mayuko’s living room, with Mayuko still naked? How exactly does Mayuko explain he fact that she’s not wearing clothes – sleep-exhibitionism? Freud would surely have a field day…